FAIRFIELD – A proposed noise ordinance continued to be a point of contention for town officials during a recent meeting, with some offering compromises and others questioning the necessity of such rules ahead of a June vote on the issue.
Last month, Representative Town Meeting members debated a noise ordinance Wednesday, which originally called for prohibition on yard work, power tools and music after 6 p.m. on weekdays and 8 p.m. on weekends. Many vehemently opposed limiting yard work on private property, and the ordinance was subsequently sent to the RTM Legislation and Administration Committee for modifications.
Jill Vergara, an RTM member who drafted the ordinance, suggested some amendments at the committee meeting, including extending the weekday yard work cutoff from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
The committee reviewed and debated each of the proposed amendments, but member Jeff Steele said he had a “bigger question” – why does Fairfield need a noise ordinance?
“If there are 66 towns out of 169 that have a noise ordinance, that means there are 103 that don’t,” Steele said. “What necessitates us even having one? Why don’t we just follow state statute and leave it at that and call it a night?”
According to a March statement from Police Chief Robert Kalamaras, Fairfield officers currently use regulations from a state statute to enforce noise violations which, he said, are “sufficient to allow officers to make reasonable decisions when they respond to complaints of noise.”
But Vergara argued the town is not in compliance with the state statute, noting a lack of police enforcement.
“I have been trying to pussyfoot around the issue of lack of enforcement because it’s embarrassing to the police department,” Vergara said. “We shouldn’t have to say that we need to compel the police to enforce language that is on our books.”
In addition to state statutes, the town adopted legislation in 1985 which prohibits excessive noise at night and calls for measuring noise with a sound level meter. But Vergara claimed that town law has also been ignored.
“It’s as if we have something on the books that’s meaningless,” she said. “And it gives people the false impression that we have regulations that can help protect them from excessive noise, but there really aren’t.”
Vergara said her intent is to enforce the ordinance and give the police additional tools to respond to noise complaints. One of the tools, she said, is allowing officers to use their discretion when responding to calls rather than relying solely on the sound level meter.
If the updated proposal were to be approved, police could issue penalties for excessive, “plainly audible” noise coming from a “sound production device” like a speaker, radio, television or instrument. But RTM member Pamela Iacono said she was concerned about the sound production device definition.
She asked whether a resident playing the piano with their windows open or a resident sounding a shofar – a horn often sounded at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – could be penalized.
“I don’t know that I really want to be able to go after, you know, Mary Jo, who’s doing piano lessons,” Iacono said.
Under the ordinance, a resident would receive a verbal warning for their first offense, a $100 fine for their second, and $250 for each subsequent violation over the next year.
Some members also pushed for additional leniency on weekend yard work, which the ordinance would limit to 8 p.m. Steele argued there is still daylight at 8 p.m., and that many residents who commute to New York can only mow their lawns in the evening.
“I just think this is just further limiting what you can and cannot do in life,” Steele said.
Iacono instead suggested pushing the prohibition from 8 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., but some disagreed.
“We are trying to compromise and we did by increasing the hours by two hours from what we had originally proposed,” she added. “… I think that this is a good compromise and balance on people feeling like their rights are being infringed on with excessive noise from these things.”
“We’ve already pushed it back, Pam, and we’ve been working on it for a year,” member Dru Georgiadis added.
Georgiadis said the ordinance was not about lawn mowing itself, but about excessive noise.
“If you buy an electric lawnmower, you are not generating noise and you could mow your lawn at midnight if you want,” Georgiadis said.
Still, some members said a noise ordinance for the entire town was unnecessary, as the majority of complaints come from residents by the beach which, according to a Fairfield Patch article, is where many students from Fairfield University and Sacred Heart University live.
“We have an issue down at the beach. I don’t disagree with that,” Steele said. “But I think we’re taking the time now to not only address that issue – which is good that we are – but now we’re saying, ‘Hey, let’s think about the whole town and all the different noise problems.’”
But Georgiadis argued the noise complaints went far beyond the beach area.
“I live in the beach area, Jeff. Please don’t make generalizations,” Georgiadis said. “The letters I’ve been getting are from neighbor to neighbor.”
According to the most recent annual report from the town police department, noise complaint calls went up 28 percent from 366 calls in 2019 to 469 calls in 2020. Police Lt. Michael Paris declined to comment further on the frequency of noise complaints Friday.
Several committee members agreed that they want law enforcement to attend the full RTM meeting in June, during which members plan to vote on the noise ordinance and provide comment.
The committee approved the amendments to the proposed ordinance, with Vergara, Georgiadis, Josh Garskof and Karen P. Wackerman in favor, Steele and Ed Bateson opposed and Iacono abstaining.
In a Friday newsletter to residents, First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick said the proposal should be “vetted through a separate public forum,” as it could significantly impact local contractors and residents.
“There should be an opportunity for everyone who lives or operates a [business] in town to have a better understanding of the proposal and share their input before the RTM proceeds,” Kupchick said.
She encouraged residents to attend the May 22 RTM meeting where public comment will be heard before the June vote.